Coming off two weeks working on my parents‘ property right before the 2020 election drama, I craved time alone in nature. En route to home, I swung through the Wallowa and Elkhorn Mountain ranges for some true solitude. Below is a photo essay from my time there.
No phone signal for days.
Two total other people encountered on the trail. My favorite was the ebullient Pastor Dave, who “moved to the area 17 years and 75 pounds ago, found hiking, and have been to all 76 lakes in the Wallowas!”
Lots of time on foot and pedaling in the mountains.
A big shout out to Chelsea for graciously supporting my extra time away. It made me appreciate her even more and brought to mind this Rainer Maria Rilke quote:
I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation.
Photos from the Elkhorn and Wallowa Mountains!
And that’s a wrap! Sing us a song la da deee da da… Ciao for now, folks.
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Hurricane-Creek-Wallowas-with-Matterhorn-scaled.jpg19202560Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2020-11-04 18:53:572020-11-04 18:57:09Solitude in the Elkhorn and Wallowa Mountains
We’d bikepacked a week on the Oregon Timber Trail (OTT) while it hurled curveballs. This latest one seemed insurmountable: Brady’s old aluminum bike sat next to us, top tube fully snapped off. Clearly, his trip was over.
Or was it? Tipsy on margaritas, Zach eyed the bike and declared, “We’re fixing that frame. You’re not quitting this trip.” Suuuure…
Seven days earlier, JT, Brady, Zach and I converged at the starting point on the Oregon/California border. The OTT marked our first trip together. Gear was dialed, spirits were high. A local we joked with brandished a large pistol and yelled BANG to cue our departure. Welcome to rural America!
Stoked, we pedaled off. Two miles in, a stick kicked up and destroyed Brady’s derailleur. Seriously?! He headed back to catch Chelsea (our ride to the trailhead) before she headed home.
A auspicious start, to be sure. Two miles down; only 702 to go!
Will pedal for singletrack descents… Photo credit: Brady Lawrence
Kicking Things Off
Every day on the Timber Trail left me thinking, “All that happened today?” or “We started there?” I’ve road toured thousands of miles, but riding trails on a loaded mountain bike is far more physical and committing. There were few resupplies and lots more potential for things to go awry. (It’s difficult to hitchhike off a singletrack trail.)
As the OTT guide says, the first four days and 200 miles (the Fremont Tier) are the toughest. After Brady broke his derailleur on day 1, Zach, JT and I pedaled onward on the remote Fremont National Scenic trail.
Reflecting at Lava Lake after a day on the OTT.
An expected water source was merely a trickle. Zach, Experienced Bikepacker, brought a syringe, which we used to summon water and fill our bottles.
We eventually popped out to HEY, MY CAMPER VAN. (Brady rendezvoused with Chelsea, fixed his bike in Lakeview, and rejoined us.) The dehydrated meals stay packed, and we get to eat like kings. Fajitas, watermelon, lemonade, ice cream… Brady should break his bike every day.
Dinnertime – thanks Chelsea!
Days on the Trail
All days will unfold in a similar fashion. (Minus Chelsea, who packs up the van and abandons us to the Oregon wild.) Wake up, eat breakfast, stuff sleeping bag and gear in my handlebar bag, smear chamois cream on riding shorts…
It’s a ritual – simple, easy. Bikepacking is straightforward: eat, pedal, drink, eat, look at view, crack jokes, eat, pedal, sleep. Repeat.
Brady waking up on the trail.
We see zero other riders for the first four days, though a couple cars materialize way back on fire roads. (Are you lost?) Maybe we’re just a few hours drive from Bend, but it feels like another state.
Day 2: Some of my favorite riding of the trip from Mills Creek to the Chewaucan River. Ridge trails with big views of the Summer Valley, no downed trees, and a feeling of spaciousness and exploration on new terrain. Brady enjoys a good day and only snaps his chain twice. (We carry Quick Links for an easy fix.) Zach’s suspension pivot bolt is loose, so he fashions a shim from a plastic fuel canister cap. We’re making it happen.
Brady hard at work fixing his chain.
Day 3: Smack down on Winter Rim. Cairns mark our path as babyhead-size rocks punish bike, body and spirit. Thoughts of bailing to ride smooth fire road to Fremont Point arise, but we push through. Are we trail-blazing pioneers or martyrs? Hours into the punishment, it’s not clear…
I wait at a cattle fence. Brady pedals up: “Dude, I just peed blood.” A bicycle seat shot to his nether regions… Luckily, we have a cell signal at Fremont Point. With a stunning view behind us, the internet informs us that Brady will soon hallucinate, bleed out of his ears and eyes, and die. Hmmm. A call to a couple doctors leads Brady to decide to simply monitor the situation. (Stupid internets.)
High on Winter Rim overlooking Summer Lake.
What I Ate (Plant-Powered!)
I followed a vegan diet (as always) for the OTT and found it quite easy!
-Oatmeal with PB, nuts, and dried fruit
-In towns, I asked cafe chefs to whip up a hashbrown, veggies and veggie burger combo. Delicious!
–Picky Bars (Bend local company, so good!), Pro Bars, Lara Bars, Kind Bars (3-4/day)
–Primal Vegan Jerky (mesquite lime is my favorite)
-Gummies (Annie’s), Sour Patch Kids: plenty of vegan (non-gelatin) options exist at any convenience store. Next trip, I’ll buy less sugary snacks and go with savory as much as possible
-Chex Mix, Trail Mix
-Fruit (grapes, cherries) – worth carrying an extra pound.
Zach winning at the snacking game mid-ride. Photo credit: Brady Lawrence
-Snacks from above
-PBJ burritos with nuts and whatever other calories (dried fruit) I could find
-Backpacker’s Pantry freeze-dried dinners (Pad thai and Kathmandu curry are both vegan); many other brands have vegan options as well.
-Tasty Bites dinner pouches
-Big meals in Chemult, Oakridge, Sisters, and Breitenbush. Fuel up!
-Nuun electrolyte tablets in water (1-2 per day) – available in Oakridge and Sisters
-Hammer enduralyte pills (2 a day) – light and small, easy to keep in a small plastic baggy
A Day to Test the Spirit
We kick day 4 off by pushing our bikes uphill through overgrown brush. It’s an omen to come for the hardest day (for me) of the entire trip.
Miles of uphill to the top of Yamsay Mountain follow. This is a new, uncleared addition to the Timber Trail; big downed trees frequent the trail. Summing it up, a joker carved WHY in giant letters on one.
We push/carry/curse our way over ~1,783 trees (who’s counting?). A scifi audiobook entertains me, but JT and Zach push on, cheery and accepting our circumstances. I’m a positive person but I HATE THIS CLIMB.
Usually the up is worth the down… Photo credit: Brady Lawrence
After eight hours and 20 miles (I can crawl faster…), plus gallons of sweat, we summit Yamsay Mountain. The valley unfolds below us and I post “time for the DOWNHILL” on Instagram.
Nope. Sorry, suckers. Miles of downed trees await us on the other side of the mountain, followed by 25 miles of sandy, tire/soul-sucking fire roads. This is a Sisyphean day, a grind to test our will.
Onward. Loree’s Chalet in Chemult rewards our 8:45 pm arrival with hot food. Delicious vegan burgers in a highway diner whaaat? We celebrate by sharing a $59 motel room. It’s cozy.
The wonderful Loree’s Chalet in Chemult. Photo credit: Brady Lawrence
The Price of Admission
I’m not complaining. Really. We expected tough days – it’s the price of adventure, the entry cost to go somewhere most people won’t. I can wax poetic about finding our edge, pushing our spirits, blah blah blah, and (maybe?) some of that is true. However, it’s easy to rationalize difficult physical trials with promise of future toughness, so I guess I’ll continue!
Who knows. Too much time to think on trips like this. I need more audiobooks.
Into the (Mostly) Type-1 Fun Zone
From Chemult, we start the Willamette Tier and lakes and streams appear. Swimming! At first, we’re mildly shy (except for JT, the Nudist). Soon, we’re stripping down with aplomb and racing to the water.
Racing for the water! Photo credit: Brady Lawrence
These are long days, 6-8 hours of pedaling, but there’s plenty of time for cooling off and even kicking back. With temps hitting 95 degrees, a cold shock to the system is a magic reset. As a bonus, soaking our shirts makes us (slightly) less stinky.
Ferocious insects descend at picturesque Timpanogas Lake. Mosquitoes, camper’s bane! A sprint to don full rain gear ramps into building a smoky fire to ward them off. The thought of spending 10 similar days haunts our dreams, but the bike gods smile on us and the rest of the trip is free of bugs.
I’m rolling out the next morning (dodging mosquitos) when Brady shows me a small problem: his top tube is totally snapped at the weld to the seatpost. He skips the huge trees of Middle Fork trail and takes the fire road to Oakridge. His trip is over, or so it seems…
Regrouping on the Metolius-Windigo. Photo credit: Brady Lawrence
Trail Repair 101
Operation Rescue Brady is engaged. Chelsea arrives to scoop him up, but Zach gets a harebrained idea and rolls up his sleeves… We stand back – always respect mad scientists, especially ones wearing underwear covered in cartoon turtles.
TA-DA. Ski straps and duct tape victory. We stand around discussing the situation; Brady is skeptical. I throw a log on ground: “Ride over that to make sure.” (Least effective test ever.)
Peer pressure works: Brady rejoins us and we set off around Waldo Lake. His seat post flexes dramatically and the frame is toast, but he’s a gamer. Magically, held together by enthusiasm, high fives and ski straps, his bike will survive another 350 miles of punishment.
A professional bike fix.
Hitting a Routine
The second week is more straightforward. There’s hard work, lots of it, and we’re tired with sore bodies, but it’s also strangely easy to push on. Having a group of four means if someone is down/tired/slow, they drop back and take it easy, eat some food, then rejoin the team.
After a big 9,000’ day of climbing in the Old Cascades Crest zone, we roll into the the Promised Land: Breitenbush Hot Springs! We descend upon three incredible unguarded buffet meals, returning for 2nds, 3rds… We stuff ourselves and lounge like anacondas after a feeding, napping in the library.
Earning those big meals at Breitenbush on the Old Cascades Crest, Mt. Hood tier. Photo credit: Brady Lawrence
A woman at Breitenbush is impressed with our trip and gushes, “You guys are like a dog pack! Wait, I mean…” Puppy Pack, I quip? The name sticks: we are the Puppy Pack. (Far too goofy to be a wolf pack.)
The Final Push
The last three days are clean and easy, except for the parts that aren’t. Dagnabbit, no day is a cakewalk on this trip! The toughest break is Zach wrecking hard and getting banged up. (After the trip, he discovers cracked ribs and bike frame.)
There’s a fantastic camp spot on Timothy Lake watching the sunset over Mt. Hood. The sky rocks deep purples and oranges and we talk about friendship, adventure, and relationships.
Miles later, the Puppy Pack makes it! A triumphant feeling washes over us as we lay our bikes down by the Columbia in Hood River and jump in. Truly, completing this ride is an accomplishment. We celebrate in style by stealth camping on the beach, dirt bags forever.
End of the Oregon Timber Trail! Just ignore the two ladies behind us…
Thinking back a month out, I’m left with a “wow, that was fleeting” feeling. Two weeks of regular day-to-day life can feel so humdrum, whereas the OTT condensed a few months of bike rides, hikes, and socializing into an intense stew of awesome.
The Oregon Timber Trail is my most-difficult physical challenge (for now!). To mountain bike for 15 straight days and explore my home state from bottom to top feels good, a feather in my adventure cap. Rather than exhaustion I’m stoked about future bikepacking adventures – this certainly won’t be the last trip.
P.S. A huge shout out to the Oregon Timber Trail crew for their hard work envisioning and executing on this fantastic linkup. I think the OTT will become a destination experience for riders from all over the world.
Racing a thunderstorm (we lost) on the Metolius-Windigo trail. Photo credit: Brady Lawrence
All the Numbers: Trip Totals
15 days, 704 miles, 90 hours pedaling, and 70k of climbing. 47 miles/day average.
Day 1: Cave Lake Campground to Mill Creek TH, 49 miles and 7,000’ climbing. Day 2: Mill Creek to Chewaucan River, 46 miles and 6,300’. Day 3: Chewaucan River up to Winter Rim and finishing at Silver Creek: 55 miles and 4,000’ Day 4: Silver Creek over (tree-strewn) Yamsay Mountain down to Chemult: 59 miles and 5,400’. Day 5: Chemult to Timpanogas Lake (mosquito hell): 48 miles and 3,900’ Day 6: Timpanogas down Middle Fork to Oakridge: 54 miles and 1,800’ Day 7: Oakridge up up up Bunchgrass to Gold Lake: 31 miles and 7,250’ Day 8: Lake city! Gold Lake to Lava Lake with so much swimming. 52 miles and 3,500’ Day 9: Lava Lake to Sisters via Metolius-Windigo Trail: 49.5 miles and 4,070’ Day 10: Sisters to Clear Lake on the Old Santiam Wagon Trail: 46 miles and 2,700’ Day 11: Huge, awesome day! Clear Lake up down up down through Old Cascades Crest to Santiam River: 51 miles and 9,000’ Day 12: Easy day from Santiam River to Breitenbush Hot Springs (so much food is eaten): 18 miles and 3200’ climbing Day 13: Breitenbush to Timothy Lake. Get ready for rocky terrain on Lodgepole Trail near Olallie Lake: 45 miles and 4,850’ Day 14: Timothy Lake to Gunsight Ridge: 46 miles and 6,000’ Day 15: Gunsight down Surveyor’s Ridge to Parkdale, finishing the OTT with Post Canyon: 55 miles and 5,500’
Got beta on the trail or questions? Fire away in the comments below to help out future riders or sort out your trip. Happy pedaling!
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/The-crew-Oregon-Timber-Trail-Mt-Hood-1.jpg6831024Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2018-08-30 16:15:472018-11-02 09:20:43Bikepacking the Oregon Timber Trail: Broken Bikes and Other Trials
We’ve spent the last two weeks visiting Portland. Spring is in the air, a battle of cherry blossoms, occasional sunshine, and frequent rain showers.
The mountain biking and running trails here are a bit mucky with mud, but the hills are a vibrant green and the waterfalls are firing. Best of all, I’m hitting the trails with buddies that I haven’t seen for a year.
Martin hiking through mossy trees on the north side of the Columbia River Gorge.
Ryan beneath the roaring Upper Horsetail Falls.
This Portland visit reminds me there’s nothing like old friends and a deep-rooted community. We’ve house-hopped from friend to friend, dropping briefly into daily routines, and also randomly run into people we know almost every day. While traveling is wonderful, there’s magic in the simple moments with people we’ve known for years.
It’s been a multi-faceted visit. Lots of physical activity (as usual), plus hauling a friend’s new water heater and reading books in goofy voices to toddlers. Green tea swims in my veins thanks to frequent coffee shop catch-ups, and we’ve also gobbled food at our favorite restaurants, listened to a friend perform Joni Mitchell’s Blue album, and downed more vegan chocolate truffles than is probably healthy.
Our van doesn’t just haul bikes – here it is carrying a new water heater and two boxed cabinets for my buddy Eric.
In short, it’s like “normal” life. This is a novelty because at some point in the past 2.5 years, traveling stopped being a novelty and morphed into simply life. Home shifted into wherever we were. Then a strange thing happened: the newness of a constantly footloose lifestyle stopped feeling revitalizing.
This clarity surfaced last year in NYC after we pedaled 2,500 miles through 13 countries during our European bike tour. Chelsea was ready for a break at home; I found myself preferring reading a book than seeing a Broadway show. We wanted to dig into projects, stop the logistics of daily travel, and revel in routine.
Paul leads the way into the steep stuff on a glorious day of mountain biking at Syncline in the Columbia Gorge.
Despite feeling road worn, we headed to San Diego for a Chelsea’s brother’s steampunk wedding, road tripped up Highway 1 in California, and then landed in Santa Cruz over the new year to recharge. Our time at Farm Sanctuary served up a fulfilling February, which is right when our tenants let us know they’d found a house to buy. Perfect timing to land at home! We’ll be back in our king-size bed by May for a few months.
When we paused in Portland in early spring of 2015, I wasn’t ready to be stationary. The red rocks of Utah wailed a siren song and cycle touring in Europe trumped stationary summer plans. (Can trump be a positive word anymore?)
This time, both Chelsea and I are ready for a base from which to launch adventures for a few months. Stopping when we want – rather than of necessity – is a fantastic option. I’m grateful to have the choice to switch at will between on the road and parked, and we’re going to take advantage of it.
Plans for Portland abound, mostly revolving around connecting with our community, exploring the shifting landscape of this rapidly growing city, and focusing on deepening various skills (e.g. guitar). We’re also excited to jump back into hosting mode. Chelsea is planning many ladies-only nights where I’ll be banished from the house. Apparently she’s spent enough time with me!
I hadn’t climbed for 2 years (!) before Martin (climbing here) coaxed me into a bouldering session. Now I’m back at it.
We’re not done traveling. Far from it. We’re resting, refilling the energy stores. I’m already mapping out an overseas adventure trip for mid-summer; shorter jaunts around the Pacific Northwest beckon in the meantime. It’s a temporary shift from full-time wandering to exploring our back yard with the van. And of course sinking my mountain bike tires into grippy Oregon loam after two summers away bike touring.
My personal challenge is to not view our time in Portland as the rainy time and travel as the bright sunny days. Variety is key, and pauses heighten my appreciation of travel. I’m committed to staying stoked about the fun the city (and Pacific NW) has to offer. It’s an opportunity to stay creative without travel as my muse.
But for now, the rain just stopped and the sun is peeking through the gray morass. Time to slip on the running shoes and head out for a jaunt up Mt. Tabor. See you in PDX!
A vanagon (and me) dreaming of future trips… (Shot by me for Farm Sanctuary.)